Mission to London

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

Mission to London to negotiate

the transfer of ships to the R.H.N.

(source: G. Mezeviris  Vice- Admiral R.H.N.,
"Four decades in the Service of the R.H.N", Athens 1971)

 

“If you’ll have to cross seas and oceans, do not forget that this war is total and our objective one: to annihilate the conqueror that infects the saint Hellenic Land…”

 

                                    Liverpool England, November 1943, Rear-Admiral Mezeviris

                                    Addressing the crews of the corvettes “TOMBAZIS” and

“KRIEZIS” at the ceremony of their transfer to the R.H.N.

 

On August 20, 1943, Rear-Admiral Mezeviris was leaving Cairo for London onboard a RAF bomber plane. The objective of the mission he was entrusted with by the Minister of the Navy of the Hellenic Government was the negotiation with the British Admiralty for the transfer to the R.H.N. of new ships to replace worn-out ships soon to be retired as useless.

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“I traveled to England on a British Air force bomber. Because of the German fighters that were patrolling off the French shores, airplane that were executing regular lines were only flying during the night hours and in between they were spending the day in Gibraltar.

 

In Cairo airport I joined some officers of the heroic and gallant R.A.F. and for the first time I felt that I had really earned the epaulets of General officer. I will never forget the few hours that I spent with the Admiral of Gibraltar. He was very impressed, as were all British officers, with my escape from occupied Greece to Egypt.

 

Wartime England

 

I had on several occasions visited England before the war and I was interested in forming a personal opinion on wartime England and the way the British were arranging their lives during this period. I soon came to the conclusion that everything had been arranged so that life continued untroubled; no matter how long the war would last. Systematic work, deep consciousness of the seriousness of the moments and absolute self-control were the basic elements of the whole organization. Every citizen, independently of sex and age, considered he was obliged to offer his services important, small or even insignificant. For both men and women, there was always possibility to offer one’s services to the National Guard, the passive air defense, the auxiliary services and the war industry. Women were operating the antiaircraft guns installed in Hyde Park. Overage generals and admirals of the previous war were competing to undertake any available service, accepting to serve with two, three or more ranks lower that their rank of active duty.

 

Food quantities distributed with tickets had been reduced to the absolute necessary and perhaps the English people –who value so much their habits-, felt that they were suffering from privation. In my Home country however, many would have been happy if in the good peace-time periods such food was available at so low prices. Even if the British citizens were not dressed as well as before the War, the clothing distribution system with tickets insured to all renewal of the worn-out items at prices slightly higher than before the war. For the British it was a matter of honor to limit their supplies to the items they could legally buy with their tickets and were not buying on the black market. Very few owned private cars and, they were much fewer taxis than before the war and service cars were used sparingly. However public transportation operated in a way that fully satisfied the needs. At the same time entertainment for the military and the citizens was not neglected. They were plenty of cinemas, theaters and night clubs operating …at full capacity, even though the quality of the shows wasn’t as good as before the war.

 

The British with their natural character and the systematic organization of their daily life succeeded after four years of intensive war life to remain masters of their nerves. They were listening with special interest the war announcements and they all trusted the bold hands that governed the Empire. The renowned politeness of the Londoners had remained intact in the middle of the ruins of the catastrophic bombardments of the first years of the war.

 

Such a different ambience from the one I left behind in Alexandria! Back there the personnel of the Navy lived in the poisonous fumes of politics and was acquiring habits of luxury that could not be sustained after their return to Greece.  I am sure that for those who were sent for training or to take delivery of a ship, the stay in England was a real period of revival.

 

During the most part of my five month stay in England, almost daily, we had night air raids. But they were feeble attacks not comparable to those of the first years of the War. They were executed by a small number of planes of which only a few succeeded in passing the antiaircraft barrier and bomb Central London. The others, facing an unbelievably thick barrier of fire and projectors network, quickly dropped their bombs and changed their course heading to their bases. Every air raid however was causing a number of casualties and material damages. The Londoners used to face the old air raids when the anti-aircraft defense was insufficient, were acting completely indifferent to these feeble attacks. No one was descending to the shelters anymore; road traffic was not interrupted and public shows went-on imperturbable. The price paid for this attitude was sometimes dear…in one occasion, a bomb dropped on a public dance hall made some 180 victims.

 

Mission to the British Admiralty

 

My mission to the British Admiralty was executed under perfect conditions. Avoiding extreme claims that can only bring irritation, I submitted requests that could be supported by arguments based on logic. In a clear and sincere way the officers of the Admiralty presented their point of view and gave me some promises that didn’t practically defer from what I had asked. These promises were kept to the letter. This success was not of course the result of my personal efforts, but was rather due to the sacrifices and hard 3-year labor of all those onboard our war ships. I, for my part, had only presented to the Admiralty the just requests of our Navy. A series of exploits of our ships -with important human and material losses- had contributed significantly to the success of my efforts.

 

Exploits of the R.H.N.

 

First among these ships was the destroyer “QUEEN OLGA” under her commander Lieutenant Commander G.Blessas. She had joined the British Fleet of the Mediterranean Sea, was actively participating in the operations and had repeatedly been praised in war announcements. She met her glorious end on September 26, 1943 during the unfortunate operations of the Dodecanese that followed the downfall of Italy. The heroic Lieutenant Commander, the Executive officer Griroropoulos, 5 more officers and 65 members of the crew were lost with the ship.

 

A few days earlier, on September 14,1943, after a brilliant career, the submarine “KATSONIS” while patrolling on the North Aegean Sea was attacked by a German corvette with depth bombs. She suffered very important damages but went on firing with her gun, until she was completely sunk. Her commander, the heroic Commander B. Laskos, and 31 officers, non-commissioned officers and sailors were lost with her. From the 15 that saved their lives, the executive officer Lieutenant Tsoukalas and 2 non-executive officers succeeded to avoid to be taken prisoners, swam to shore and after many adventures arrived safe to the Middle East.

 Submarine "KATSONIS"

This series of exploits was sealed by the big adventure of the destroyer “ADRIAS” under Commander I. Toumbas. On October 22, 1943, the destroyer “ADRIAS” while patrolling in the Dodecanese hit a mine, lost her bow and had important damage in other parts of the ship. 21 men of the crew were killed and 24 were injured, among them her commander and 3 officers. In spite of the hopeless situation of the ship, she sailed by her own means and was grounded on the Turkish shore. Then, after offhand repairs under extremely difficult conditions, the  “ADRIAS” sailed on her own means and arrived at Alexandria. The British Admiralty asked me to convey their warmest congratulations.

 

 Destroyer "ADRIAS" arriving at Alexandria

The British Admiralty transfers 8 ships to the R.H.N.

 

Armed with new arguments offered by the exploits of the R.H.N. ships, I succeeded in the 4 months since my arrival in England to obtain the transfer of 8 ships to our Navy: Two Fleet destroyers, the “NAVARINON” and the “SALAMIS”, three escort destroyers of the 'Hunt' class, the “KRITI”, the “AIGAION” and the “HASTINGS” and three corvettes, the “APOSTOLIS”, the “TOMBAZIS” and the “KRIEZIS”. These ships were added to those that the British had previously transferred to the Hellenic Navy and to the 4 landing ships, the small escort ship “KING GEORGE” and the minesweepers that the Americans had transferred.  With these ships, our war losses in surface ships were compensated and the replacement of our old ships that were worn out following their intensive use was made possible. Besides, the old ships had to be decommissioned to man the new units.

 

As far as submarines were concerned, we were unable to complement our pre-war number of units, because the new ship buildings were not sufficient to even cover the needs of the British Navy. I was however asked by the British Admiralty, in case new submarines were transferred to the R.H.N., if our Navy would be disposed to send them to the Pacific Ocean if asked to do so. After consulting the Hellenic Ministry of the Navy, I replied that our submarines would be available to be used wherever the British Admiralty considered that their presence would be useful. From our old 6 submarines, remained only two: the “PAPANIKOLIS” and the “NIREUS”. All the other had a glorious end; 1 during the war in Greece and 3 later, during their missions out of the Middle East. Two submarines had been transferred to the R.H.N., an ex- Italian the “MATROZOS” -needing of a long overhaul- and a newly built the “PIPINOS”.

 

At the celebration of the raising of the Greek Flag on the “PIPINOS”, I represented the King of the Hellenes as the godfather of the ship and was therefore the recipient of exceptional honors from the British Authorities.

October 28, 1943, Barrow-In-Furness. Rear Admiral Mezeviris arriving at the shipyard

 

  October 28, 1943, Barrow-In-Furness.  Rear Admiral Mezeviris, accompanied by the commanding officer of the ship Lieutenant Commander A. Rallis, reviewing  the "PIPINOS"crew

  October 28, 1943, Barrow-In-Furness. On board of the s/m "PIPINOS"

 unveiling the ship's name draped by the Greek flag 

October 28, 1943, Barrow-In-Furness.  Rear Admiral Mezeviris inspecting the submarine "PIPINOS"

 

I also attended the celebration of the raising of the Greek Flag on the corvettes “TOMBAZIS” and “KRIEZIS”. Addressing the British Admiral, after thanking him for the transfer of the ships, I added: “Taking delivery of these ships, we don’t forget that a while ago they were fighting under the British flag. That means a lot: a long history through the centuries of traditions and heroic exploits. We realize our responsibilities. But, I dare say, the Hellenic Navy has proved till this day that it deserves the trust of her Great Ally and I am sure this will also happen in the case of ‘TOMBAZIS’ and  ‘KRIEZIS’.”  The British Admiral replied with an enthusiastic speech honoring our Navy. I then addressed the crews of the two ships and given that for the first time our war ships would be used for escorts in the Atlantic Ocean (in the England -Canada line), I said among other things: “If you’ll have to cross seas and oceans, don’t forget that this war is total and our objective one: to annihilate the conqueror who infects the saint Hellenic Land. Wherever you’ll be, you will know that your final course will always be the one that will lead you to the calm waters of the Greek ports that await from you the light of Liberty. It is possible, during the course of the present struggle, that there will be moments when your soul will long for the clear blue sky of Greece. If this ever happens to you, gaze at the Greek flag that waves with pride on the mast and pump the power to overcome your melancholy. Our flag will remind you that you are fighting for her, to see her raised the soonest on the Saint Rock of the Acropolis and to never be stroked again. »

  

Lieutenant Commander Panayotopoulos was attending this ceremony as the commander of one of the corvettes. I was especially pleased to see him, because as a Lieutenant he had accompanied me in my escape from occupied Greece to Egypt.

 

Liverpool, December 3, 1943, Raising of the Flag on the corvette "KRIEZIS".                               Rear Admiral Mezeviris addressing the ship's crew

Liverpool, December 3, 1943, Raising of the Flag on the corvette "KRIEZIS"

While my mission was coming to a favorable end, a pointless action by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs following a request of our Naval Authorities in Alexandria, jeopardized the whole mission: Trough the Embassy of Greece in London it was requested that the British Admiralty transfers, in addition to the ships that I had requested, a large number of cruisers, destroyers and submarines of the Italian Navy that had surrendered. As it was natural, this request was rejected and at the same time the expected written confirmation to my request was delayed. When I tried to find out the reasons of the delay, I got the answer: “At long last, what do you really want? The Italian Fleet requested by your Chief of the Fleet? Or the British ships that you are asking for here?”  I immediately replied, by personal initiative, that we have requested the British ships for immediate utilization to continue our war effort, while the transfer of the Italian ships wasn’t requested for the present but was a kind of written mortgage for the future. My answer was accepted as satisfactory and by the mid-December I received a very favorable reply from the Admiralty putting thus an end to my mission.

 

During my stay in England, following a request of the British Admiralty, I gave a lecture in the Ministry of Information to the representatives of the Press concerning the activity of our Navy, especially during the period of the War in Greece. I was asked to give a similar lecture to the Victory League. I dedicated an important part of that lecture to the situation prevailing in occupied Greece. After my concluding remarks,

 

 

     Rear Admiral Mezeviris with Admiral Sir Wlilliam James

                  at the British Ministry of Information

Admiral James who was presiding the session said: “There is no doubt that Britain has contracted a very important debt towards Greece. But we, British we are accustomed to pay our dues...”  How sad that the official policy of Britain after the War denied the Admiral’s words…

 

 Evening Post - October 30, 1943
 

 

In September 1943, I broadcasted through the B.B.C. a message to my compatriots in occupied Greece. I was also assigned the sorrowful honor to deliver a memorial oration in the Greek Orthodox Church of London for the casualties of the sinking of the destroyer “QUEEN OLGA”.

 

In the mean time, I was getting very alarming news about the situation in our Navy, from colleagues arriving from Egypt. I therefore decided to seek my return to Alexandria as soon as possible, to help prevent the breaking up that was becoming imminent. In spite of the good intention of the Minister of the Navy, the approval for my return was delayed. Initially, my name was put forward to be a member of the Greek Representation in Italy, but I declined. Then, I was informed that the only position that I could fill in Egypt was the position of Superior Commander of the Shore Facilities in Alexandria. Of course I refused to assume a position without material content and replied that I request immediate approval for returning to my Base, as my mission in England was completed. This time, in addition to the formal official telegram, I decided to send one more to the private residence of the Minister of the Navy and the approval was thus immediately given. I then asked the British Admiralty to arrange for me as soon as possible my return trip to Egypt.

 

Thus, on January 15, 1944, I left hospitable England on board a RAF airplane and on January 17 I was back to Egypt.”